More Teens use the Web, but for What?

According to a recent Pew study, about 90% of those ages 12-17 use the Internet, but only 66% of adults do so. However, one of Jakob Nielsen’s usability studies seems to show that adults make more proficient use of the Internet, in contrast to persistent stereotypes:

Many people think teens are technowizards who surf the Web with abandon. It’s also commonly assumed that the best way to appeal to teens is to load up on heavy, glitzy, blinking graphics.

Our study refuted these stereotypes. Teenagers are not in fact superior Web geniuses who can use anything a site throws at them. We measured a success rate of only 55 percent for the teenage users in this study, which is substantially lower than the 66 percent success rate we found for adult users in our latest broad test of a wide range of websites. (The success rate indicates the proportion of times users were able to complete a representative and perfectly feasible task on the target site. Thus, anything less than 100 percent represents a design failure and lost business for the site.)

Teens’ poor performance is caused by three factors: insufficient reading skills, less sophisticated research strategies, and a dramatically lower patience level.

I’ve wondered if the growing popularity of blogs would help to counteract the declining literacy among young people:

In fact, fewer kids are reading for pleasure. According to data released last week from the National Center for Educational Statistics’s long-term trend assessment, the number of 17-year-olds who reported never or hardly ever reading for fun rose from 9 percent in 1984 to 19 percent in 2004. At the same time, the percentage of 17-year-olds who read daily dropped from 31 to 22.

On the one hand, blogs require their readers to read and interpret information; on the other hand, they’re often undemanding both in length and content. We’ll see.

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